Want a tongs for eat it

I like browsing in phrasebooks. My favourite find was in the Lonely Planet South Pacific Phrasebook. Its very short section on Pitkern includes the following entry.

When something’s unpalatable …
Want a break for eat it (lit. only a bird would eat it)
Want a tongs for eat it


  • I can make sense of the first phrase only if break is a misprint for beak.
  • I love the idea that some food is so horrible that you have to eat it with tongs.

Tongs as a countable noun?

In English, tongs is an uncountable plural noun that can’t be used in the singular. Just like trousers and scissors. If we want to talk about a specified number of these items, we need to insert a noun that is countable, for example a set of tongs, a pair of trousers or a pair of scissors. Or two sets of tongs, two pairs of trousers or two pairs of scissors.

There is no logical necessity for these nouns to be uncountable plurals, that’s just a partly arbitrary feature of English. Other languages treat some or all of them as singular count nouns. For example, German does this for all three of these items: eine Zange, eine Hose, eine Schere. And indeed, it seems that Pitkern also treats tongs as a countable noun.

Incidentally, tongs and Zange are cognates: words that come from the same source. Another pair of cognates showing the same pattern of sound changes are English tongue and its German counterpart Zunge.


Pitkern is a creole spoken on the island of Pitcairn in the South Pacific. Pitcairn was settled in 1790 by 9 mutineers from HMS Bounty and 19 Tahitian women. Because of overcrowding, the entire population of 194 moved to Norfolk Island in 1856. 16 people returned to Pitcairn in 1858 and a further 4 families returned in 1864.

About 50 Pitcairn descendants still live on the island and about another 900 on Norfolk Island.

Lesser-known varieties of English

There is more information about Pitkern and its close relative Norf’k in Norfolk Island and Pitcairn varieties, by Peter Mühlhäusler in The Lesser-Known Varieties of English, edited by Daniel Schreier, Peter Trudgill, Edgar W Schneider and Jeffrey P Williams.

The other English varieties covered in the book are Orkney and Shetland, Channel Islands English, Canadian Maritime English, Newfoundland and Labrador English, Honduras / Bay Island English, Euro-Caribbean English varieties, Dominican Kokoy, Anglo-Argentine English, Falkland Island English, St Helenian English, Tristan da Cunha English, L1 Rhodesian English, White Kenyan English, Eurasian Singapore English and Peranakan English in Singapore.

Creoles and pidgins

For more about creoles and pidgins, please see http://languagemiscellany.com/2021/09/number-one-big-fella-him-bilong-misis-kwin/

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